By Katie Maupin Miller
It’s said to everything there is a season, and cattle hair care is no different. Just like the tides, cattle’s hair growth is cyclical, and the natural ebb and flow of their hide and coat can potentially make or break your show season. Even if you’re using all the right products, feeding the right diet and sticking to a near perfect hair care routine, if you’re fighting against their natural hair cycle, you’re likely losing the battle. We spoke to some cattle care experts to unlock the secrets to a great show day coat, and they all agree it starts with genetic potential and timing.
“Hair care is cyclical; in 90 to 120 days, cattle shuck out and start over,” explains Jon Gevelinger of JG Cattle and Coaching. “We try to control that process, but you can actually be growing hair at the wrong time, which will be a detriment to your show day look.”
James Sullivan of Sullivan Supply, agrees. Hair care is completely built around your show calendar and season. The Sullivan family starts their hair care routine 100 to 120 days before their biggest shows. After that window, cattle will often completely shed that hair within 45 to 60 days.
“It is important to adjust your routine to reflect what shows are your most important and to land majors shows during that 120- to 160-day window,” Sullivan says. “For example, in the summertime our biggest shows are junior nationals (end of June to early July) and State Fair (mid-August). We want to be hitting our 100-day mark at junior national time, so the hair is starting to hit its peak and looks really fresh. That hair then has hit full potential when state fair comes around.”
After state fair, the Sullivans shed their show string and start their hair growth routine again to have their cattle looking their best for the American Royal, NAILE and Denver.
The May family, of Wisconsin, has a similar schedule in their barn, which has led them to backdrops around the country. Brock and Lauren cite their sweet spot at 90 days of pre-show hair growth with a similar shed and grow cycle between their targeted shows. A great show day look requires more than the latest supplements and oils, it is built on good genetics, consistent work and an understanding of the natural hair cycle of cattle.
With these tips from experts, you’ll be on your way to show ring success by following these steps – shed, grow, show, repeat.
The shedding phase is often the hardest for most exhibitors, especially those facing the contrast of their cattle’s thick, long, winter hair to their slicker spring/summer coats.
“Less hair that is fresh is better than a ton of hair that is dead or stale,” Sullivan says. “In the winter, cattle usually have nice hair coats. Some people like to try and keep that hair in the animal as long as possible, but by the time their spring/summer show comes around it is dull and lifeless. Getting that hair completely shucked out in February and March will allow you to grow back a healthy, shiny hair coat, in the summer, which will make your animal look healthier and fresher, than the one with the 4 inches of dead hair.”
One cue it is time for a shed is when cattle’s hair appears dead. Gevelinger uses the example of black cattle. Dead hair on a black steer or heifer looks more like brown fluff than shiny, healthy hair. Although the idea of getting rid of hair on a show calf can seem intimidating, the May family will tell you one of the main steps to good hair is removing all the dead hair before you try to grow new hair.
Gevelinger has a shed routine in place in his barns. His showmen and women will use a shedding comb, like those used on house pets, every day before they rinse their calves. According to Gevelinger, the extra grit of slightly dirty hair makes it easier to comb out dead hair, while any dirt, dandruff or grime on the hide stirred up by the shedder is washed away when the calf is rinsed after.
Shedding combs are used on all the body hair, not the legs or tailhead, to remove any old hair. Some people will body clip calves to get their blank slate of fresh hair. Gevelinger avoids this method, unless he’s dealing with a calf that has a patchy or unhealthy coat, such as one with a bad case of ringworm or places where they’ve rubbed hair off. As he explains, clipping a calf to remove dead hair will also remove some new hair, which has already started to grow.
“When the shedding comb stops pulling hair out, that’s when you put it up,” Gevelinger explains. He often sees people overuse the shedding comb, which can damage new, fresh hair that’s coming in. Besides the shedding comb, Gevelinger has a few other tricks up his sleeve to start a “shuck,” as he calls it. These include bringing your calf in a little later, kicking it out a little earlier or penning it in a brighter part of the barn, to trick the calf’s natural clock into thinking it is experiencing long, summer days. Clipping can also hit the hard reset button on a calf’s coat. He will often clip faces and rough tops on cattle he’d like to launch into their shed.
GROW The growth phase is often the one that most exhibitors want to spend the most time on. Our experts have agreed, generally speaking, you should be switching your cattle hair care routine to focus on hair growth between 90 to 120 days before your targeted show. Hair growth comes down to limited exposure to sunlight, cooler environments, brushing and rinsing, hair and hide conditioning, hard work and genetics.
During the “grow” part of the hair cycle, a showman’s day should start early. Cattle should be brought in before sunrise. In most barns, this will be between 6-7 a.m. Calves should be stalled in a clean, dry area with thick bedding to avoid any extra stress on their joints.
“This is also a good opportunity to feed and water them out of feed pans and water buckets, so it becomes a normal thing for them, so they will eat better at shows,” Sullivan adds. After they’re fed, it’s time for their first rinse or wash, depending on your routine. Steers or heifers will need to be rinsed for a minimum of 10 minutes to lower their body temperature. Any excess water should be removed with the backside of a plastic scotch comb, and the brushing part of your routine now begins.
“Brush for a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes each side,” Sullivan recommends. “Try not to only focus on one area, and make sure you treat every area of the body like it’s just as important as the others. The belly, flank and tail head are often neglected, and they are as important as anything.”
Sullivan brushes hair with a rice root brush at a 45-degree angle toward the calf’s ear to stimulate hair growth and train new hair. Gevelinger uses several brushes during the hair growth stage. Right after retiring the shedding comb, he reaches for mini wide range or mini 360 brush to start growing hair. These brushes, with bristles like women’s hair brushes, are able to easily comb underneath the slicker, often courser summer hair, and the shape of the comb then pops the hair upwards to allow space for the fluffier undercoat to begin to grow. This is Gevelinger’s go-to, until he starts to notice that the brush is getting harder to comb through the hair. Then, he switches to a plastic fluffer comb. Often, after the first 30 to 40 days.
After the cattle have been brushed, they need to be blown dry. Sullivan’s rule of thumb is once you think your calf is dry, blow them out for 15 more minutes. “If you leave your animal wet, not only will that hair turn wavy and be lesser quality than the dried hair, but it will also warm up with the animal’s body creating humidity, which will make your animal warmer,” he says.
The May family’s No. 1 cattle hair concern is hair and hide health, mainly preventing dander, and fellow Weaver Livestock representative Gevelinger agrees that dandruff is public enemy No. 1 of a good hair coat.
“The only way to get the dandruff out is with a blower and physically pop it out of there,” he says. “You don’t need to panic, but you dang sure need to get the dander off of there.”
Once any dander is brushed and blown out of the hair coat, it can be prevented by applying oils and conditioners to the calf’s coat. (See the sidebar for our expert’s top product picks.) Heavier oils can trap heat, so they should only be used in the winter, on cooler days or in the morning if your calf is in a heat-controlled environment. Anytime your steer or heifer is subjected to warmer weather, lighter oils should be used as your main conditioner.
This brushing and rinsing routine is ideally repeated around two more times that day – around noon and 5 p.m. – before the calves are kicked outside after sundown, typically after 9 p.m. All of the experts agree that nighttime turnout is non-negotiable for successful show calves. Cattle need turn out time to properly stretch their joints to maintain soundness, and the extra exercise keeps cattle healthy and happy.
You may have noticed Step 1 to hair growth wasn’t buying a cool room. In fact, none of our experts feel that they’re a necessity. Gevelinger keeps calves in barns with cool cells. These drop the temperature about 20 degrees, which keeps nighttime turnout in the Southwest from being a dramatic temperature change. The Sullivan family’s original show barn was set up with misters that ran on timers. Each blast of mist would give their calves a cool shock, like jumping in a pool on a hot day. Misters that run continuously tend to make barns humid and cattle hot, as the water begins to trap heat like an insulator.
“We do not keep our heifers in a cooler room to grow hair,” May says. “They are in a barn with fans and rinsed twice a day.”
During the winter, you likely won’t even have to bring your calves in at all during the day. They can stay outside, as long as they have fresh water, deep, dry bedding and shelter. Of course, you should still brush and work their hair daily though.
Now that moment you’ve been waiting for – the show – is finally here. Believe it or not, the results you see in the ring likely aren’t due to any fitting product you spray on your steer or heifer today, but rather a culmination of months of hard work and your calf’s natural hair cycle.
Whether you’re showing a steer at a Midwest county fair or a slick steer in Houston, the work you put into your calf’s hair and hide health will be very visible. Regardless, of how well you can pull a leg, you have to have a great coat to start, so the “show” stage is a pretty quick one. There is one thing to keep in mind when preparing for a show, clipping can sometimes affect your “grow.”
“In the winter months, you may clip a calf for a show one weekend and need to touch them up before they go in the ring the next weekend. But in the summer months, the hair tends to grow slower allowing the clip job to last a lot longer,” May explains. “We also have learned that clipping in the summer can promote hair loss. We wait as long as possible to clip them, in fear of them losing their hair before show day.”
Just like that, your months of work and toil to get the perfect hair has come to an end. You’ve shown your calf at its peak of freshness and hide health; now just like the seasons, it’s time to start over. Repetition may be the key to great hair all along.
“The most important hair care tip is consistency. If you make a solid routine and stick with it consistently day-after-day, you will see results,” Sullivan says. “Some people will do everything correct one day, and the next day do about half the effort but expect to see the same results, and that’s not the case in growing hair, or in life in general.”
· James Sullivan – Director of Product Development, Sullivan Supply Inc
o Heavier conditioners - Sullivan’s Revive or Revive Lite
· Lighter conditioner – Sullivan Kleen Sheen
· Light Oil – Sullivan’s Flare
· Hair Growth Promoter- Sullivan’s Sure Coat
· Shampoos - Sullivan’s Clear Choice or Sullivan’s Volumizer
· Combs/Brushes- Sullivan’s Rice Root, Sensation or 360 Brush
· Show day hair pop- Sullivan’s Shock
Jon Gevelinger – owner, JG Cattle & Coaching
o Summer conditioner – Pro-Sheen with a little Liniment
o Winter conditioner – Pro-Sheen with liquid Pro-Charge mixed in
o Encourage healthy hair – Pro-Hair 100
· Brock May – owner, Brock May Show Cattle
o Heavy oil – Pro-Gloss
o Light oil – Pro-Pink
o Hair growth promoter – Pro-Hair 100
o Feed supplement – Shag and Grown & Shine (both fed 60 days pre-show)